I think I’m going to start a commune. Or host an orgy. I don’t know — which one is quicker?
I moved week before last. I was able to walk, more or less, and I hired two semi-enthusiastic 20-somethings to take my paltry items and put them in the smallish truck I rented and take them out again 10 miles farther west. And I even had time to buy a robin’s egg blue sofa and a butter yellow leather chair, and they were even delivered the SAME DAY, after which I looked around, my head still slightly spinning on its axis, and said, “I’m home.”
The next day my-neighbor-the-artist knocked on my door and I invited him in.
If you knew about the house I grew up in, you would know what a Big Deal that is.
Once a year or so, mostly to keep us on our toes and to get the windows clean, we would have Company — faceless people who smelled like People From Other Families and sat having polite conversation in the living room while I hid in my bedroom, hoping I wouldn’t be called out to Say Goodnight or some other shameful horror, inhaling the strange scent of coffee brewed in the coffee maker that came out of its cupboard hiding place on these occasions.
The day before there’d be the usual vacuuming and dusting that occurred at regular intervals, plus Mom would be outside with a hose removing the screens from the windows and spraying them down, buffing the glass until the water spots were gone and it shone. The window thing got to be a joke and when I got older we’d ask “Who’s coming over?” whenever Mom washed the windows, knowing that there probably wasn’t anyone coming over because we were a family of hermits bleached white from lack of sunlight, growing huge saucer-like eyes as we peered at one another around the nuclear-family dinner table.
No one ever came over.
I liked going to my friend’s houses. Except for the smell, which I could never get used to. It never occurred to me that my own house was strange, with green walls and orange walls instead of plain white ones, or that the smell I called home may have been odd to anyone else, but there was a certain smell that I associated with Other People, the smell that came wafting out through the front door when you rang it crying “Trick or Treat!” and that made Halloween truly horrifying and door-to-door magazine sales an impossibility.
My house smelled like home and when people came over, especially teenage babysitters who SMOKED on the way over, they completely ruined the smell for hours. Sometimes I could smell the residual Otherness of the strangers who crossed our threshold for days, and I would have to hold my breath when I walked through those rooms and avoid sitting where they sat for days so I wouldn’t be infected with their smell (which still clung to the mid-century modern sofa cushions) and their strangeness.
So the Inviting People Over thing isn’t a big part of my gene pool. Which made it all the more unusual for me to, without even thinking, ask my-neighbor-the-artist to step in instead of standing out in the sun, blinking a little as he introduced himself. I grabbed his arm and he came in and perched gingerly on the only piece of furniture in the room that wasn’t brand new and only one day old, and I proceeded to wear him down and grill him about his life and the neighborhood until he ran screaming through the still-open front door to his next-door studio where he slammed the door shut and threw the bolt against this horror of a woman-next-door who was scary and intense and invited him in.
I haven’t seen him since.
Okay, that’s a bit of an exaggeration. I have seen him at least 100 times since, walking past my window or knocking on my door to show me the painting he made THAT VERY MORNING or inviting me to an art show or apologizing for wanting to mow my lawn.
And I love having neighbors whose names I know and I love living across the street from a neighborhood coffee house and a gigantic tree with branches that just beg to be climbed and sat on and I love living where people call to me by name from across the street and I can hear the train 12 times a day. I don’t even mind the buses lumbering past my window every hour or the homeless walking up the street on Saturday nights.
Is good, this place. Is good.